Calling all science junkies. If any of you have struggled through a condensed summer course, you know that over two hours of lecture material is next to impossible to focus on. I daydream through regular classes, so obviously, summer biochemistry was no exception. This summer I experienced some next-level mind wandering and began to apply the topics I was learning about in my biochem class to my favorite thing to daydream about: food, duh.
Nevertheless, my space cadet tendencies led me somewhere. After class, I decided to do some research on food science (I have obviously had a really lit summer). While I was googling and perusing databases, I began to breakdown my previous paradigm of food as fuel and rework a new paradigm of food as medicine. The varying goals of medicine all seek to maintain health, whereas food creates health in the first place.
If you want to know what you should be eating to try to avoid having to take medication, keep reading to see what different foods do to the body on the foundational, biochemical level and how that plays into our health.
So, What Does Each Food Group Actually Do?
Anyone who has taken a high school biology class knows that protein is basically the foundation on which every living organism is built. These molecules serve a variety of functions including: repair and matinence of molecular structures, production of hormones, energy, architecture of antibodies, transportation of molecules (think hemoglobin + oxygen), and enzyme catalysis.
Without these operations functioning at full capacity, different illnesses are more likely to develop. The body does not store amino acids (the building blocks of proteins), so a varied daily intake of protein is needed to supply your body with all 20 major amino acids.
What you should take away from this information is that you need protein as much as a fish needs water. With all the high-protein diet crazes that are currently trending, adequate protein consumption tends not to be a problem, but you still have to make sure you’re getting those amino acids your body needs (I’m looking at you vegetarians).
2. Whole Grains
Emphasis on the word whole. Whole grains have not been refined, which is a process that strips away many of their nutritional vitamins, therefore, paying attention to the wording is key. The vitamins in whole grains act as cofactors, which aid in the enzymatic functions of your cells, or in other words, they help to speed up the biological reactions that let you live.
Whole grains are also a great source of carbohydrates (sugars), which are a hot topic in the diet industry. Carbs are necessary to keep your body functioning properly because they regulate your blood glucose level, which provides you with the energy needed for proper brain functioning and an active metabolism. Basically, you need whole grains to stay energized and healthy, so go ahead and eat that bread with zero remorse.
3. Fruits and Veggies
Though the “eat your fruits and veggies” mantra has been engrained in all of our heads since childhood, not everyone knows why we should eat them or what they do for our bodies. Fruits and vegetables provide you with vitamins, fiber, and phytonutrients.
I already gave you the lowdown on vitamins, so now it’s on to fiber. Fiber is your digestive system’s guardian angel. It keeps you full and regular because humans do not have the enzymes needed to break it down. You don’t want to experience the consequences of not having enough fiber in your diet.
Phytonutrients are part of plants’ defense systems and they are still being extensively studied by biochemists. However, we have learned that by by eating them we can acquire some of their defense capabilities, as well as the vitamins and minerals they are made up of.
4. Fats n’ Oils
Take a second to clear your mind and forget everything you’ve ever heard about low fat diets. Eating the right kind of fat helps keep you heathy and disease free. Fat forms membranes for your cells and for your organelles. It is also the body’s ideal form of long-term stored energy.
Try and stick to unsaturated fats, which can be found in foods like nuts, seeds, fish, soy, and dark green vegetables.
In conclusion, your diet produces your health
One of the most interesting topics that I stumbled across while exploring the convoluted depths of Google was T. Colin Campell’s book, The China Study. This book outlines the eight principles of food and heath, which provides a comprehensive look at how food can act as the only medicine needed to preserve the health we all struggle to maintain. I have listed the principles here because I think they help to elaborate on the perception of food as medicine.
- Nutrition represents the combined activities of countless food substances.
- Vitamin supplements do not act in isolation as they do in their whole food state. They are not a panacea for good health.
- There are virtually no nutrients in animal-based foods that are not better provided by plants.
- Genes do not determine disease on their own; they must be activated or expressed, and nutrition plays a critical role in determining which genes, good and bad, are expressed.
- Good nutrition can substantially control the adverse effects of noxious chemicals.
- Good nutrition that prevents disease in its early stages can also halt or reverse disease in its later stages.
- Good nutrition beneficial for a particular chronic disease will support good health across the board.
- Good nutrition creates health in all areas of our existence.
Hopefully, after reading this, you now realize or remember that food is necessary to make our bodies function properly. Our relationship with food is as a consumer, but not as a consumer of the marketed food industry. Don’t let advertising, hear-say, or trends tell you that “cheaper is better” or that “bread makes you fat”.
Eat with the mindset that you want to create health, and in order to do so, you must eat to nourish your body, not for convenience. For all you know, a step towards the right food could be a step away from the drug store.